Thursday, February 22 2024

Mariolina Ceriotti, La famiglia imperfetta – The Imperfect Family
(Ares, Milano 2010)

No one is perfect. Neither adults nor children. However, this fact is not
important. Mistakes are part of our educative role: we aim constantly for
perfection and in doing so we make a virtue in trying to be so . The fear
of making mistakes with our own children could lead to uncontrollable
anxiety or a state of passiveness, neither reactions are not what we had
intended. Educating our children means something more specific and precise;
something which consists in transmitting a passion for life. We must learn
to put aside our uncertainties and worries when we have children. According
to Mariolina Ceriotti, it would seem that many parents have lost their
confidence in their educative role. Mariolina Ceriotti, a child
neuro-psychiatrist and psychotherapist and mother of six, says it’s as if
the natural compass is not activated when they become parents. Doctor
Ceriotti works in the national and private health service and deals mainly
with problems in infant and adolescent ages and the relationships in

The book does not try to point the finger at who is right or wrong in
certain conflictual situations, be it the child or the parent nor does she
try to analyse the tendency to feel guilty in certain situations and worry
about influencing negatively our children in the formative years of their
lives. On the contrary, the author has found a guiding thread: the search
for and encourage the relationship between the parents and children. The
reason is simple: every child who comes into the world deserves the best
possible relationship with…..who? That’s right! Us! Despite being imperfect
parents, we still desire to help the child in every way possible.

One of the key concepts is normality. The author states that every
problem stems from an incorrect education which cannot be treated like a
psychological anomaly or an illness. There are specific illnesses in infant
and adolescent ages which are treated by specialists. However, most of the
difficulties that parents face in raising their children are seen as
common, everyday problems like growth, relating to others, adapting to new
situations and consequently they cannot be considered as real pathological
problems. A parental guide helps children to grow up and adapt to a world
full of difficulties especially in infancy and adolescence where great
energy and efforts are needed on their part. Nevertheless, all is not lost!
The mistakes we make in raising our children are not unforgivable or
everlasting if we learn to rectify in time and show some degree of

It would be fair to say a “normal” boy (or girl) growing up is imperfect.
Children go through certain complex processes: conquests and defeats,
becoming an adult, withdrawal, moments of satisfaction and moments of
frustration. Some parents unknowingly give a pessimist or apprehensive view
to educating children as if the final objective was simply to avoid
immediate or future dangers like anorexia, alcoholism, drug addiction and
unhappiness. Nevertheless, being afraid, being bored, lacking self
confidence, being shy or disorganised, having nightmares, being
occasionally aggressive are relatively common and can be overcome. Many of
these, are assumed to be psychological problems but are in actual fact
educative problems.

The best way to establish a balance realistically and positively is to
“build” a family, that is to be aware of the potential difficulties and
opportunities that arise in our relationship with our companion and with
our educative role with our children. We must not fall into the trap of
exchanging roles as if we on a par or steal the roles or duties of our
partner. Man and woman bring each individual wealth that cannot be
substituted and which in turn allows a companion to change in marriage and
ultimately in a family.

Ceriotti mentions four aspects which should be corrected as soon as

a) A respect for boundaries. Children have a right to their own
personal sphere either physical or psychological. It is necessary to help
them understand a way to express and protect their own intimacy and the
relationship they have with their own body. An over affectionate mother or
a child brought up with no sense of decency in the early years can lead to
an invasion of territory of others.

b) The emotional maturity of the parents should be expressed by maintaining
with a certain degree of flexibility an adequate distance. They
should learn to be by themselves. Children have the right to have space or
in other words a relational distance and this changes according to the
various stages in their lives. The mother must learn to distance herself
gradually from her son in order for him to be independent. A sudden or
brusque separation would cause a precocious independence. The most
important thing is an inner maturity. We need to learn to tolerate the
phases in growing up, accepting that there will be moments of sadness or
dissatisfaction. They need to learn how to live with their problems and
that there are moments in life when “no” is a frequent answer.

c) It is necessary that every member know his/her place in the family. Children must see that the adult can
keep and maintain the respective roles of members which will evolve through
time. The change from the twosome husband- wife to the threesome
husband-wife and child means for example a husband shows his affection
differently in the presence of children. The arrival of a new brother or
children becoming adults are other stages which require respect for each
person’s role. Change also means there will be a wealth of emotions along
the way.

d) Educating children means proposing a system of values. It is
not sufficient to have a good ear. Adults have the responsibility to
transmit values to their children. According to the author, the family
today can be defined as “fundamentally emotional” which in some ways can be
an advantage but it also brings its risks. Consequently, the family is much
more fragile today and a continual effort should be made to “a kind of
schooling” in the family to educate our children to attain solid values.

The book is presented with meaningful regard and thought while the language
used is accessible to all. It injects optimism but at the same time it is
realistic and brings to light many problems. The book, however, does not go
into a deep analysis of each of the problems because of volume concision.
It could be used as useful source of ideas for parents and educators and
family associations. Some ideas can be used in educating on the use of the
media or as a means of presenting a familiar education in the public


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